Report From the East and West Villages, Post-Apocalypse


Le Bonbonniere, the West Village’s favorite greasy spoon, was operating by candlelight last night.

Over the last three days, as the reality of the storm’s extreme impact downtown has become increasingly apparent, Villagers have pumped their basements and tried to lead some semblance of normal lives, despite no electricity, heat, hot water, internet, or — in the case of AT&T and T-Mobile subscribers — virtually no cell phone service.


Still not reopened, the Greenmarket at Union Square has become a parking lot for Con Ed trucks (the Con Ed headquarters is just east of the square).

Restaurants with perishable goods thawing in their freezers realized that they needed to reopen just to avoid wasting massive amounts of food, and they found ready customers tired of shivering in their apartments and yearning for some companionship. Nevertheless, a new set of dining skills needed to be developed to eat in near total darkness. The biggest blessing: no thumping musical accompaniments and a quietude that permitted conversation.

Most apartment dwellers at least had water and gas (even though the furnaces and water heaters didn’t work due to electrical ignition systems), but residents in the East Village public housing projects were not so lucky, since the city had pre-emptively shut off their gas, too. And anyone living above the sixth floor in projects and condos had no water pressure at all, since electricity is needed to hoist water up to the water towers on tops of buidlings to provide pressure over the sixth floor. (We won’t get into the principles of Physics involved here.) As a result, hydrants had been opened in the East Village and Lower East Side, in front of which lines of residents formed to fill up water cans so they could be carried upstairs, in many cases for 10 floors and more.

The fanciest restaurants remained shuttered — due to the inability of the large staffs to come in from other boroughs — and so did the fast food places, where a cab ride or spending long hours waiting for skimpy public transportation was out of the question for low-wage employees.

Other restaurants were simply too badly damaged to open. Fork in the Road spoke with Peter Hoffman, chef and owner of Back Forty on Avenue B. “There was over three feet of water in the basement,” he lamented, badly beaten but still seemingly in good spirits. Behind him worked a pair of employees with face masks, who were methodically removing supplies from the basement and tossing them out, and trying to clean and repair damaged equipment as a sump pump labored noisily behind them.

Indeed, dozens of bulging garbage bags sat curbside. “We lost all our paper supplies, our menu sheets, our toilet paper, paper towels, and of course we had to throw out all the food, since it had become contaminated,” Hoffman continued. A crate of milk sat on the curb, waiting to be bagged. Elsewhere in the East Village, Freegens were seen raiding piles of discarded food, maybe not too wisely. “Luckily, the Prince Street Back Forty West was undamaged,” Hoffman finished, then turned to help his employees lug bags out of the basement, all in the absence of light.

At Back Forty, the situation was dire due to flooding…

…and many contaminated supplies had to be tossed out.

More after the jump


On Avenue C, the transformer farm that exploded.

A block away from Back Forty, running from Avenue C to Avenue D, was the now-notorious transformer farm that brought the whole downtown grid down, which was preceded by a very entertaining fireworks display that could be seen throughout the skies in Lower Manhattan. There were plenty of vehicles surrounding it with flashing lights, some from Long Island, but little activity appeared to be occurring. This dovetails nicely with an NPR report this morning suggesting that work had been completed, but they were waiting for a few other pieces to fall into place in the grid before flipping the switch to turn the thing on.

Here are some more pictures showing what’s been going on.

Pumping water out of a residential building between Avenues C and D. Water was reportedly waist high on Avenue C at the height of the surge.

Repairing cars damaged by the flood on 10th Street.

Many hastily opened restaurants lacked electricity and heat, forcing the diners to eat bundled up. But O! that pizza tasted good.

In most cases, you had to sit outside to see your food.

Luckily, you could still buy a garishly colored wig on St. Marks if you felt like it.

For a change, the line wasn’t waiting to get into Ippudo, but for uptown buses that rarely showed up, and then were already totally full.

Thanks to Creative Bath Products on 34th Street for letting us use their facilities to put up this post.